Bringing our RV Home for the First Time!

They told us to anticipate problems with our RV. Little did we know that the first major (and dangerous) problem would happen less than five minutes after we left the lot! It’s hard to smile when you have to turn around and go right back to the shop.

This video takes place in April, 2017. It’s been a busy spring for us, so over the next few weeks we will be catching up by uploading a new video about once a week.

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Choosing an Extended Warranty for a Used RV

First, a fun video about inspecting our “new to us” RV for an extended warranty. After the video you can find everything you wanted to know about the what, where, why, and how much in our blog!

One of the more challenging decisions we’ve faced after purchasing a used RV is whether to purchase an “Extended Warranty” to help cover any upcoming repairs to the coach.

We bought a thirteen-year-old RV. It may have only 7,000 miles, but it was still used for vacationing. After a few trips, it seems the former owners simply parked it in a seasonal campsite near the shore and enjoyed it as a summer vacation home. That means 13 years of use for the furnace, air conditioners, refrigerator, plumbing system, electrical system, and all other mechanical parts such as slides and jacks.

So, what are some repair costs we might be facing? Let’s consider the refrigerator. RVs have highly specialized refrigerators that can run on both electric and propane, and switch automatically between the two cooling systems depending on what’s available at the time. A quick check at Camping World shows that the replacement cost for our four-door refrigerator with icemaker is $3,700 – on sale! And that doesn’t include installation.

And what are the odds that we’ll have to make expensive repairs sometime in the next few years? Almost 100%. Imagine what life is like for appliances, electronics, plumbing, etc. in a motorhome, bouncing down the highway at 55 miles an hour or down pot-holed back roads in search of the perfect wilderness campsite. Try picking up your water heater and shaking it around for a few hours and see how well it holds up!

Also, consider that RV plumbing systems are, of necessity, made of flexible rubber and plastic. Even without use, gaskets and glue will dry out and connections will loosen. Imagine a fitting bursting open and the floor of the motorhome covered in an inch of water.

Bottom line: There are thousands of things that can go wrong with anything from the engine to the air conditioner, and all of them are much more expensive to repair or replace because they are in an RV.

So, we began research on RV Extended Warranties.

WHAT IS AN EXTENDED WARRANTY?

The first thing to realize is that “Extended Warranties” are not true warranties at all. They are insurance policies, and as is true with all insurance policies, most people will never get back as much as they ultimately pay in premiums. Insurance is all about shared risk. To oversimply, your premiums go into a large pool along with every other insured, and everyone’s claims are paid out of the same pool. Insurance companies are in the business of making money. They research how much they’ll have to pay in claims, on average, from a large pool of insureds. Then they set everyone’s premiums high enough to be sure that that pool of money is always larger than the most they expect to pay in claims. Whatever is left over at the end of the year is their profit.

Some people will have claims for repair that are much, much higher than they ever paid in premiums. Most people will spend more on premiums than they would have on repairs. So, most people lose money by buying insurance, but they will know that there is a limit to their overall risk. That helps with both peace of mind and budgeting. And if they don’t buy RV insurance, and they end up with some huge repair bills – well, let’s just say that we don’t want to be in that group!

WHAT TO CONSIDER WHEN RESEARCHING WARRANTIES

  1. What’s Covered – and What’s Not

When considering an extended warranty, it’s important to read the fine print and be sure that you know exactly what is and is not covered, and under what circumstances.

Some companies offer what are called “Inclusionary Policies,” which means that your contract will give a detailed (sometimes excruciatingly detailed) list of anything and everything that they will pay for if it breaks or stops working. Other companies have “Exclusionary Policies” that list what is not covered. Some policies are a hybrid of the two. The benefit of an exclusionary policy is simple: If it’s not listed, it’s covered. On the other hand, an inclusionary policy may cover the left-widget, but not the expensive gizmo that you need to make the left-widget work. And since insurance companies make money by not paying claims, you can be sure that the cost of the gizmo and the labor to install it is coming out of your pocket.

Some policies cover only the basic systems of the RV, while others cover or charge extra for “luxury” items such as icemakers, TVs, motorized awnings, etc. Know what you have, and know what’s covered.

Another factor to consider is how or whether the policy covers “consequential damages.” Consequential damages are those caused to one part of the RV because a different part failed. Some policies will not pay for consequential damage. For instance, if your uncovered fan belt fails, causing your covered engine to seize, that covered engine is not covered in this circumstance because its damage is caused by the excluded fan belt. Not good for you!

It gets even trickier. Some companies define “consequential damage” as damage to a covered part by the failure of an uncovered part (as above). But others define “consequential damage” as damage to an uncovered part because of the failure of a covered. This makes it almost impossible to make a side-by-side comparison.

2. Rules and Restrictions for Service

Understandably, warranty companies don’t want to pay for unnecessary or excessive repairs. And, unfortunately, all too many people try to pad their claims so that they’ll “get their money’s worth” out of their warranty. So, ALL warranty companies have very specific processes and procedures that you MUST follow before getting any repair work done. If you don’t follow their requirements TO THE LETTER, they will certainly deny your claim.

 

Most policies require that you get a detailed estimate, and then have that estimate pre-approved by the warranty company before any work is done. Anything done before you receive approval will not be covered. Anything done that’s not included in the approved estimate will not be covered. If the mechanic discovers more problems that need to be fixed, the additional work must be submitted and pre-approved.

Some policies may require you to have repairs done by one of their own approved facilities. Others will work with any certified mechanic, and even mobile mechanics who will come to you.

Internet forums are full of complaints about warranty companies refusing to pay for necessary repairs to RVs. If you dig a little deeper the story is almost always the same: The owner was in a hurry and couldn’t reach the warranty company because it was a weekend, or a holiday, or they had to get back on the road right away to reach their destination so they went ahead and got the repair that was “obviously” needed, then screamed when the warranty company refused to pay. With an extended warranty, you will have to make a choice between waiting a few days for the pre-approval process and getting paid for your claim, or getting it fixed right away so you can continue with your vacation—and paying for that repair out of your own pocket, which really defeats the purpose of having a warranty.

3. Cost

The cost of extended warranties is influenced by a multitude of factors including the age, mileage, and value of your RV; the size of your deductible (the amount you pay before insurance kicks in); the length of the warranty; the exclusions and inclusions; and the amount of time you spend in your motorhome each year.

All companies offer varied levels of coverage. Some look inexpensive until you realize that they charge extra if you spend more than a certain number of weeks on the road each year, or want consequential damage coverage.

A good question to ask yourself is: “What’s the maximum amount I can (or I’m willing to) pay out-of-pocket for an unexpected repair?” The higher the deductible, the less expensive the policy will be. Choose a deductible based on what you’re best able to afford.

Be aware that different policies base their deductibles on different criteria. Some charge your deductible “per visit” to a repair center, so your total deductible will be the same whether you have one or ten items repaired while you’re there. Others charge separate deductibles per incident, so don’t get other problems fixed while you’re having your insured repair done or you’ll pay a deductible on each repair.

4. Reputation

A warranty is only as good as the company that issues it, and I’m sad to say that I’ve encountered far-too-many stories of people who were sold extended warranties and submitted claims, only to learn that the company has a policy of repeatedly denying claims in the hope that you will give up and go away. Even worse, in some cases people have learned that their warranty company has gone bankrupt or out of business. For that reason we only considered warranties from companies with good financial ratings and a long track record in the business.

OUR CHOICE

We received proposals from three different warranty companies: Good Sam, Coachnet, and Wholesale Warranties.

Good Sam offered us a one-year policy for $1,438 with a $500 deductible. We quickly eliminated them from consideration because of the length of coverage, overall reputation, and the fact that this was an inclusionary policy.

Coachnet offered a basic five-year policy for $4,744 with a $200 deductible. After adding in special riders for “luxury” items, permanent residence (Using the RV more than a couple of months a year), and consequential damage, the premium came to $5,562. Coachnet has a good reputation, especially for their roadside service, but we were unhappy with their definition of consequential damage (payment for failure of an uncovered part if it is caused by a covered part).

We chose to purchase a policy from Wholesale Warranties. They offered us a three-year, 30,000 mile exclusionary policy for $4,293 with a $200 deductible. The policy covers permanent residence and consequential damage defined as “the repair of a Covered Part if the failure of the Covered Part was caused by the action or inaction of a non-covered part,” which makes the most sense to us. There is no surcharge for “luxury” items such as our washer/dryer. They have a very good reputation and were remarkably thorough in making sure that the policy is tailored to our needs and that we fully understand what is and isn’t covered.

We decided that the coverage from Wholesale Warranties makes the best sense for us. Besides the excellent coverage, this is our first RV, and it is a 2004. We are buying peace of mind as part of the warranty. There’s also a chance that we might not want to RV for more than three years, or that if we do, we might want to trade in our motorhome for something different. If we love our RV and RVing, we can keep our Fleetwood Southwind 37A or downsize to a trailer or who knows what. If we sell before the three years are over, the warranty is transferrable to a new owner. For all these reasons, we chose the three-year policy with Wholesale Warranties. We hope it’s a good choice!

Since we are buying coverage for a used RV, Wholesale Warranties arranged for an independent mechanic to do a thorough inspection of our motorhome before our coverage begins. The benefit to them is that they will not have to pay claims for anything that is already broken. The benefit to us is that we will not be denied coverage for any component that passes inspection, as long as we keep a record of all necessary maintenance (such as oil changes) from this date forward.

Our motorhome inspection was done by Fred Sumner of Vehicle Appraisal Services in Camden, Delaware (fredsumner@msn.com). A former aircraft mechanic, he couldn’t have been more thorough or helpful. Fred opened every hatch, drawer, cabinet, and cubby in the entire RV, turned every appliance off and on, rode along on a test-drive, and took hundreds of pictures during his inspection. He found a couple of minor problems which we reported to the dealer to be taken care of before we take delivery next week. If you’re thinking of buying a used RV and you live near Delaware, whether or not you’re buying an extended warranty, I highly recommend that you hire Fred to do the same kind of inspection before you write the big check and take your rig home.

If you’ve read this far you must be REALLY interested in extended warranties for RVs. If you’re in the market, please contact www.wholesalewarranties.com with this link to see if their product is right for you. If you mention us by name, we’ll get a small “thank you” gift from the company.

We’d like to get your feedback and answer your questions in the comments below. If you’d like to learn more about our journey, please subscribe!

And remember – Life’s a journey. Make every mile count!

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It’s really, truly ours

Wow! The paperwork seems to have taken forever.

First we had to wait for the sellers to get a loan to pay off their debt on the motorhome.

Then the weather keep canceling our trips down to pick up the title.

Then, the title got lost in the mail — well, more accurately, in our mailbox!

But today all of the pieces came together, so Kathy and I headed down to the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission, paid our registration, paid our sales tax, and are truly, officially, happily the owners of our 2004 Fleetwood Southwind 37A!

Hurray!!!!

Next steps: Get the tires installed. Get the extended warranty. Drive it home!

 

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Tour our new RV

I can’t believe I finally get to say this: Here’s a video tour of OUR NEW RV!

We actually shot this video back on a cold and rainy day in early January, but for some reason it wouldn’t upload onto my computer. A few days ago, when I uploaded our newest video, the tour video suddenly and mysteriously uploaded as well!

Now, to learn more about our new RV and why we chose it, read on!

Our motorhome is a 2004 Fleetwood Southwind 37A, with just under 7,000 miles. Yes, I typed that correctly—2004 and 7,000 miles. The former owners expected to do a lot of traveling but ended up using it more like their house “down the shore.” In other words, they drove it to their favorite campground and parked it there, spent time in it when they could, and returned it to the shop for service and storage every winter. They must have taken a trip or two, but not many and not terribly far.

Our floor plan

Our 2004 Fleetwood Southwind 37A is built on a Workhorse chassis with a General Motors engine, has automatic leveling, two air conditioners, and 30 amp service. Of course it has many design features that we love and made it feel like the one for us when we first toured it, including decent kitchen counter space, a large bathroom and shower (for an RV), oak cabinetry and rim, a queen-size bed, a large convection microwave oven as well as a regular oven, and even a washer/dryer combo. The rig can carry 100 gallons of fresh water, 58 gallons of grey water (drainage from sinks and shower), and 42 gallons of black water (sewage). It’s 12’2” tall, 102” wide, and 37’ 4” long, with a 75-gallon gas tank. It’s going to take some practice learning how to drive (and park) this thing!

The upside for us is that we paid MUCH less than we’d originally budgeted for a new vehicle. The downside is that the parts that deteriorate with age (gaskets, seals, etc.) have had 13 years to harden up and wear out—and perhaps get a bit salty and sandy. So we fully expect to have to replace some parts and do some repairs in the first couple of years (and beyond), especially to systems such as plumbing and heating. We’ll see. Right now we are researching service contracts, so if you have some experience or insight, please let us know in the comments section below.

The original owners, as part of the sale, paid to have six new tires installed and two “slide covers” replaced. (Slide covers are little awnings that protect the slides when they’re extended for more living space.) We’re waiting for that and other work to be completed before we pick up the RV and move it to our back yard (at least that’s our hope). So far we know it will fit through the gate across our driveway and under the trees after we do a little trimming. Maneuvering it into the yard (and parking it on top of four stone slabs) will be the bigger challenge!

Once it’s accessible, we’ll begin to set it up with kitchen supplies, linens, RV GPS unit, etc., and figure out what will go where. Do you have any suggestions or questions as we outfit the RV for travel? Or any ideas on how we can improve our videos? Please leave them in the comments section below or on our YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9TlRzyfPDMpJZJdmAszIjg.

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It’s the Southwind!

It’s the Southwind!

Thanks for all the great guesses on YouTube, Facebook, and here for our “Which RV did we choose?” game. We appreciate your comments!

Much to our surprise, after looking at literally hundreds of RVs online and a few in person over the past year or so, we fell in love with a 2004 Fleetwood Southwind 37A. It’s quite a story.

As you may remember, we had some pretty clear wants and needs in mind for our RV. We wanted a coach with bunk beds, 35 feet or less, and used but probably a 2013 or newer. So, when our friends Adam and Helena called to say that they’d found our “perfect RV” and sent a couple photos of the Southwind in an RV repair lot, we pretty much humored them by agreeing to take a look at it while we were in the area checking out RVs—especially a Newmar Bay Star—at a nearby dealer.

Despite the persistent rain and cold, we checked out several RVs that didn’t appeal for one reason or another. And the Newmar? It was pretty nice, and it’s a brand known for excellent quality. But it was too expensive, lacked several must-have features, and had a few quirks.

So we headed over to Bornmann’s RV in Glassboro, NJ, to see this motorhome our friends were so excited about. On the way I (Jeff) was actually griping about how easily they had found a great used RV at an amazing price without hardly looking. “I’m getting pretty discouraged,” I told Kathy, “and what I really want is for God to just drop ‘our RV’ into our laps—and soon!” She knew how impatient I’ve been, and encouraged me to trust God’s timing and provision.

Like I said, Bornmann’s isn’t so much an RV dealer as a repair, inspect, and modify shop for RVs. The owner also keeps some units on his lot for consignment sale and for storage.

WHAT WE LIKED

As soon as we stepped inside the Southwind, we felt like we’d found our RV! As we took a closer look, some of the things that appealed to us were:

  • The spacious feel of the coach, even with the slides closed. Remember, we need room for three dogs, a cat, and occasionally our three young-adult kids!

    Adam enjoying the spacious living area

  • Two slides—one large slide for the entire living and kitchen area, and another for the bedroom
  • The light-colored woodwork that gives a brighter feel to an RV’s interior (Kathy’s clear preference over darker wood)
  • The big four-door RV refrigerator
  • The comfortable dinette
  • The big bathroom and shower
  • The large counter space in the kitchen
  • The porcelain commode and bathroom sink (most are plastic)
  • The generous storage space, both inside and out
  • The exterior design, without all the whirls and swirls of most newer RVs
  • The living room floor plan with TWO swivel rocker-recliners in addition to a comfortable upholstered sofa
  • The cab area that has a driver’s-side door (most class As just have a door into the cabin area)
  • The passenger seat with a pull-out desk with storage underneath it and another flip-up storage area for additional storage at your fingertips
  • The queen bed with nightstands on both sides
  • Washer and dryer, all-in-one!

    The built-in washer/dryer (which we weren’t really even wishing for)

  • The built-in satellite dish
  • The driver’s seat – the most comfortable of any I’ve sat in
  • The coach itself is solidly built and was so well cared for that it feels almost new.

WHAT WE DIDN’T MUCH CARE FOR:

  • The sofa – It’s an unappealing dark green with ribbing that feels outdated, and it’s a jack-knife, which cannot really sleep two grown kids comfortably like a traditional tri-fold sleeper-sofa can (at least short-term).
  • The lack of bunks – Despite bunks as an initial must-have, we decided that we can modify the RV somehow for the few weeks that all three kids are with us.
  • The carpet – It’s somewhat faded and worn, with a few bad stains.
  • The TVs – “antique” tube models.
  • The length – 37 feet, which is two feet longer than our ideal length (although only six inches longer than second-favorite coach)
  • The age and mileage – Although the RV has less than 7,000 miles on it, which sounds great for a 2004, we know that low mileage can sometimes be a problem if an RV hasn’t been broken in (and initial problems discovered and fixed).

There’s a story behind the extremely low mileage. The owners bought the coach expecting to travel, but they ended up parking it at the Jersey shore every summer and commuting to it like a second home. In winter, it was stored and serviced at Bornmann’s.

We went back the next week to take a second, closer look on a bright and sunny day and take it on a test drive. It was quiet, smooth, and easy to drive.

What ultimately sold us, besides the many unique features and spacious and bright interior, was the great asking price! Without going into detail, the price was ONE-HALF to ONE THIRD that of many other coaches we’d considered (including those in our YouTube video)! We negotiated on a final price that includes new tires and new slide awnings as part of the deal. Just when I was once again feeling discouraged, God came through!

The next day Gene Bornmann called us with the news we’d been waiting for: Offer accepted! We are very excited—and a bit nervous about such a big investment. But mostly excited. After Christmas we’ll head back to Glassboro and take some more photos and put together a video tour for you on our YouTube channel.

WHAT’S AHEAD?

With some of the money we’ve saved, we plan to do a little interior remodeling to make the motorhome better meet our needs and taste. What do you think will be the first thing to go? Did I hear someone say “the green sofa”? You guessed it! That sofa is in a nice, big 83-inch space, so we have a couple of different ideas. The easiest would be to replace it with a traditional tri-fold pull-out queen-size sleeper sofa that will actually sleep two. Another option we’re going to look into (although more expensive) is a sofa that converts into bunk beds. Really! Sofa by day, bunk beds by night.

For those of you with RV experience, can anyone tell us how you handle the seatbelts if you buy a non-RV-specific sofa? And could we even get a traditional sofa into the RV (through the door or front window)?

The green carpet will also have to go, though we can have it cleaned and live with it for a while. We might replace it with vinyl tile flooring and a few rug runners to protect the floors and simplify cleaning, and providing a no-slip zone for the dogs and kitty.

So that’s our little “big reveal”! Did you guess it? If you have any advice or wisdom to share, we hope you’ll put them in the comments below. Just don’t tell us we chose the wrong one. It’ll really stress us out!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, happy 2017!

Jeff & Kathy

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WE PUT AN OFFER ON AN RV!

WE PUT AN OFFER ON AN RV!

logo-jpg-cropped-thumbnailWe did it! On Friday we put an offer on an RV, and the owners accepted it on Saturday. They have a loan on it, so it may take a while for all of the paperwork, but it looks like we have our motorhome. Hurray!

But we’re not ready for the reveal. We also just put up our first “vlog” (Video Blog) on YouTube where we invite you to play along in a little game of House Hunters. We’ll show you three RVs we’ve inspected in the past couple of weeks, then you guess which one you think we decided on.

You can leave your guesses here or on our YouTube Channel, “Miles and Smiles.”

Hope you enjoy!

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How to Buy the Perfect RV – Part 2

logo-jpg-cropped-thumbnailHOW TO BUY THE PERFECT RV – Part 2

We want to buy the “perfect RV,” but what does that mean for us? After touring many motorhomes at RV shows, we came up with the list of wants and needs which you can read all about in Part 1. That list is made up of individual features that we’ve seen in dozens of RVs. The question now is to find out which makes and models put the most important features into one vehicle.

Time to look at more RVs – but this time using the internet!

There are several websites where people who want to sell an RV can list them, and those who want to buy can find them.

www.rvtrader.com This seems to be the most well-advertised shopping site, with the largest array of motorhomes to choose from.

www.rvt.com Not as well known, but lots of options.

www.searchtempest.com This is a website that allows you to search all of Craigslist at one time. Nice!

With both rvtrader.com and rvt.com, you can shop by type, make, price, and distance from home. You can also apply filters to limit the RVs you are shown by brand, trim, new or used, age, private seller or dealer, mileage, length, fuel type, weight, and number of beds. There’s also a “keyword” search that you can use to look for specific features. In our case, we used the keyword “bunk.”

A nationwide search of used, gas powered, Class A RVs from 2006 to 2016 with bunks on www.rvtrader.com brings a lot of hits. Today, for instance, it brings up a list of 277 motorhomes! That’s too big a list for serious shopping, but it’s a good place to start looking at pictures of various brands and floorplans. Some of the ones that we like include:

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Fleetwood Storm 32BH

Fleetwood Storm 32BH

This is a beautiful motorhome that meets most of our requirements and wishes. Some of the things we like include a TV you can see when sitting on the couch, nightstands on both sides of the queen-size bed, three bunks (two in back and one over the cab). Better still, the rear bunk beds can be converted into a small work area when not needed for sleeping. (We’ve only seen this on one other RV and can’t figure out why everyone isn’t doing it.) What we don’t like so much is the kitchen design that has less counter space than some larger motorhomes. It also has fairly small holding tanks, which might limit how long we could camp without hookups. Fleetwood motorhomes are in the lower-mid price range and good quality. A strong contender.

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Storm 32BH floor plan

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An extra dinette or work station when it’s just us, or bunks when we have guests!

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We love the idea of a drop-down bunk over the cab that disappears into the ceiling when not in use.

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Fleetwood Flair 31 B – Another good entry from Fleetwood, with a better kitchen design, but fixed bunks that are not convertible.

Tiffin Allegro 32QBA

Tiffin Allegro 32QBA

Tiffin Allegro 32 QBA

As a manufacturer, Tiffin has one of the best reputations in the motorhome industry. Not surprisingly, they also have prices that match. This RV is a little bigger than the Fleetwood Storm, but those couple of extra feet seem to make a big difference. The kitchen has lots of counter space, and the quality of the woodwork is a notch above. On the downside, neither of the two TVs in the living area can be watched while sitting on the couch without turning your head, the bathroom is small for a unit this length, and only one side of the bed has a nightstand. Another strong contender, but we’d probably have to get an older version to fit into our budget.

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A beautiful room, but why is the TV way down where you can’t see it from the couch?

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A night stand on one side, but not the other.

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Floorplan

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Winnebago Vista 35B

Winnebago Vista 35B

Winnebago Vista 35B

Winnebago is one of the oldest and best-known names in the RV industry, and they have a reputation for well-built coaches in the upper mid-range of prices. Some of the things we like about the 35B are the abundant counter space and storage. This coach has 1 ½ bathrooms, which can be a real plus when we have kids or guests traveling with us. And, as an added bonus, this means that there are two black and two gray tanks and an extra-large fresh water tank, great for boondocking. We also like the queen-size bed with nightstands on both sides. What we don’t like is the TV placement that can’t be easily watched from the couch, and the bunks that cannot be converted to living or work space when not in use. Also, at 36.5 feet, the handling on windy days can be somewhat challenging and camping spots for this larger RV will be harder to find, especially in state and national parks.

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Comfortable Queen bed with small nightstands on each side.

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Floorplan

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Each bunk has its own TV. The space could be used for storage when the bunks are not needed.

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Nice kitchen space, and drop-down bunk over the cab.

Our favorite? Definitely the Winnebago or it’s identical twin, the Itasca Sunstar 35B which is also made by Winnebago. These coaches have so many nice details including heated wet bays so that your pipes don’t freeze, an outdoor propane connector for grilling, a little desk that folds out for the front passenger seat, a well-designed control panel, and a HUGE shower. We can definitely imagine living in this coach for months at a time. A sway bar can be added fairly inexpensively to address the problems with road handling.

We started out by limiting our nationwide search to 2013-2015 Winnebago 35B with optional drop-down bunk over the cab, and the optional, large four-door refrigerator and “just missed” buying one for a really great price in Florida. Unfortunately, all the rest that we’ve seen have been above our budget despite some serious negotiating.

Recently we’ve expanded our search by adding the Fleetwood Storm, and we plan to see one soon.

We’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and advice as we narrow our search. And, of course, if you haven’t already, please subscribe!

 

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Downsizing

img_3115We’re moving in less than eight months, and I (Kathy) have started to get serious about downsizing.

I’ve donated five bags of clothes (and a bag of shoes) to a local clothing ministry, taken books to the library, and donated my kids’ juggling equipment (with their permission) to our public school’s awesome juggling program. Downsizing is an enormous project, since we’ve been in this house for almost 17 years, and adopted three children after just the two of us moved here. Honestly, Jeff and I had a lot of stuff, even after consolidating our possessions when we got married after about 20 years as single adults living on our own. Now we’ve got our kids’ stuff too.

I walk around our house and see so many things that I want to get rid of. And some things I don’t.

Timing is our #1 biggest challenge right now.

We know we don’t want to keep our living room sofas, but we can’t get rid of them yet. I see an abundance of such things that we’ll need until the last few weeks unless we want to sit on the floor to watch TV and eat our meals. And that’s a possibility, but not for eight months.

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I’ve been reading, and now rereading, a helpful little book called The More of Less by Joshua Becker. He talks about a movement called minimalism, in which people are trying to live with a lot less stuff so that they can be free to pursue their dreams or find out their life’s purpose other than caring for their stuff—and we spend a lot of time caring for our stuff, don’t we?

But for what end? As the saying goes, you can’t take it with you. And the wise King Solomon, who spent a lifetime accumulating palaces and gold and silver and wives and servants, said, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).

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That IS the rest of the bedroom!

I think the Tiny House fascination is a part of this movement towards less. We actually have a pretty small house on a beautiful lake about an hour from where we live now. The two bedrooms are only eight by ten feet, which allows for a double bed with a headboard and a chest of drawers in the closet. That’s it. We’ve consulted an architect about the possibility of expanding our tiny “master bedroom.” It’s been fine for vacations, but it will be cramped when we’re living there fulltime. After considering the cost and the impact of the changes on our cute little house, we’ve decided to take on the challenge of living in it as is for our first five months of retirement, until we hit the road in our RV. This will force us to live simply and see how we can function and get along in such close quarters. After all, an RV is even smaller than our 700—square-foot lake house.

Challenge #2:

Our lake house is already furnished, so that limits the furniture we will be able to keep and move to the lake house. We want to replace a few pieces there so that we can take my father’s rocking chair, for example, and a larger bookcase, perhaps a set of my grandmother’s nesting tables to replace an end table in the living room.

Challenge #3:

Anyone want to buy a beautiful Santa?

Deciding what to sell through eBay or craigslist, what to give away through freecycle or a local cause, what to throw away because no one is going to want it (why have we kept it anyway?), and what to save for our own or our church’s yard sale.

Challenge #4:

Helping our now-young-adult children to downsize as they move on to college or their own apartments.
When my parents were moving from the house I grew up in, they made me sort through all the boxes I was storing in their attic. I cleared out high school papers, letters, books, and so on. I remember it being hard to part with so many items. When I was finished, they took a look and said I had to get rid of a lot more or pay to store it somewhere. They were not moving it to South Carolina with them! I will empathize with my kids’ dilemma of wanting to keep a lot of their stuff, while taking my parents’ firm stand to get rid of more. Or so I hope.

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This is what we want to avoid!

We know that lots of people say they don’t miss the items they put in storage and eventually get rid of them. Storage isn’t free, either. We’ll be storing some of our favorite items for now because we might want to sell our lake house and settle somewhere else, and will want to use our favorite or cherished items to help furnish a new house or apartment. Not knowing makes it hard. Not wanting to let go of some of our favorite family heirlooms means that we’ll have to store them while we’re living in our small house and RVing.

For right now it relieves a tiny bit of the pressure to know that we’ll need to keep some things for use in the RV as well as things for the lake house.

I’m glad we’ve got eight months to figure it all out. I also know that the last few months will be pretty hectic and crazy.

If you’ve done major downsizing, I’d love to hear your tips on how to approach the daunting task with the least amount of stress possible.

Kathy

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Thinking About Health Insurance & Health Sharing

2014-05-31-whatyouneedtoknowaboutobamacareandhealthinsuranceexchangesOne of the harsh realities that we are facing in our early retirement is the loss of health insurance for us and for our children. I’m all too aware of how much it costs for my current employer (church) to insure my family and me. For 2016 it’s $14,000, plus another $6,000 they are paying into a Health Savings Account for my “high deductible” plan. It’s good insurance – great insurance even. But it all goes away on July 1, so I’ve been looking into our options.

Obamacare:

My first stop was www.healthcare.gov, where I entered my anticipated income for 2017 and gapple-touch-icon-152x152ot the good news that you the taxpayer will subsidize my health plan to the tune of about $1,600/month. Thank you, taxpayers!
But, it seems that there are only two companies offering plans eligible for that subsidy in the state of New Jersey. One is Amerihealth, and the other is Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield. And the premiums after the subsidy average about $500/month. Not bad! I was thinking that this ObamaCare stuff might work out for us after all. EXCEPT that every plan offered has ONLY IN-NETWORK coverage, and the networks cover ONLY NEW JERSEY and the Philadelphia area.

This doesn’t work very well for us since we’re expecting to spend part of every year on the road. “You caught pneumonia in Colorado? I’m sorry, if you want insurance to cover your claim you’ve got to travel back to New Jersey in order to see a doctor.”

When I started to look at the price of unsubsidized plans, panic began to set in. We are talking in the range of $2,000/month for coverage similar to what we have now. I’ll have just turned 60 when I retire, so that means five years before Medicare kicks in.

Fortunately, a friend suggested that I look into “Medical Cost Sharing,” in lieu of insurance. And what I discovered blew my mind.

Medical Cost Sharing:

Most medical cost sharing plans are faith-based, meaning that you have to share the religious beliefs of the group in order to participate. Kathy and I are Christians, so we first ccm-logologolooked to Christian Health Sharing networks. The big three are Christian Medi-Share, Christian Healthcare Ministries, and Samaritan Ministries.

sm-logoThese plans make it quite clear that they are not insurance. They do, however, qualify under the Affordable Care Act with no
penalty as substitutes for insurance. Each requires that you live a healthy lifestyle in keeping with their understanding of biblical teaching. For instance, you can’t join if you smoke and must participate in the life of a local church. None cover abortion, sex-change operations, and the like. None will pay a claim for injuries sustained while you were drunk or high. You get the picture.

The result of these stringent requirements is that, overall, the members of these plans are likely to be healthy and health-conscious people. This means that they’ll typically have lower medical bills, and that means the plans can be offered at a much lower cost. Costs are comparable with the subsidized premiums under Obamacare.

 

Liberty HealthShare:

I also discovered a fourth company, Liberty HealthShare, thalibertylogot is a little bit different. While the above three require statements of belief that are Christian, Liberty is far less stringent in its theological boundaries and has a statement of belief that would be acceptable to non-evangelical faiths such as Catholics and Mormons, and many other faiths as well. Otherwise, regarding lifestyle choices, the requirements are about the same.

None of these four plans cover preexisting conditions when you first enroll. Several will cover them in full or in part after a waiting period of one to three years. So, if you’re already sick, you’ve got to suck it up and go with Obamacare if you can. But, if you’re basically healthy and live a healthy lifestyle, these may be good alternatives.

At the moment we’re strongly leaning toward joining Liberty HealthShare. Their top plan (Gold) has a family “monthly share amount” (like a premium with insurance) of $449, plus annual dues of $75. Our “personal responsibility” (like a deductible) would be $1,500/year for the entire family, after which they cover 100% of “sharable” medical expenses, with a maximum of $1,000,000 per incident. (It is important to read and fully understand which expenses are “sharable” and which are not.) There is no coverage for preexisting conditions for the first twelve months, up to $25,000 the second year, up to $50,000 the third year, and then full coverage. They cover preventative care and some prescriptions, including, in some cases, alternative medicine. You can go to any doctor or hospital.

For a more in-depth look at these and some other options, particularly as they relate to RVers, check out this article by the RVer Insurance Exchange.

What do you think?

Are we missing some obvious problem? What else should we be asking before we make a final decision? Are you already part of a health-sharing network, and if so, how has your experience been so far? Please let us know in the comments section below. Thanks!

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How All This Got Started

My (Jeff’s) children say I’m obsessed, and they are probably right! Once I get interested in something, I want to learn everything about it. And that means searching the web, joining forums, and watching lots of YouTube videos.

Before our first-ever RV vacation, I spent a lot of time checking out YouTube videos and the web for information about RVing. I wanted to find out how to drive such a big vehicle, how to find the best campgrounds, and how to handle the sewer hookups. (I’d seen in the movie “RV” where Robin Williams gets covered in poo. My worst nightmare, and I wanted to make sure it was never going to happen to me!)

In the midst of my research, I discovered that there are people who live full-time in their RVs—by choice! They are like full-time nomads who spend their lives crisscrossing the country, following their interests and whims, or seeking comfortable weather. Some are retired. Some are young and travel with their kids. Some have full-time jobs that they do remotely while on the road. Some work for a couple of months in one location while they save up for the next leg of their journey. I was blown away by this new (for me) possibility.

Kathy and I had talked about someday seeing America in an RV, but until then I’d only been thinking of it as a series of short vacations. After all, we have a lakeside cottage in northern New Jersey that we’ve dreamed of retiring to for years. But is there a way to combine the two? I went into research mode once again.

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Not our RV! We rented this one for a vacation.

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Our lovely lake house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pretty soon Kathy and I were following the lives of several full-time RV families as they shared their lives in blogs or on YouTube. Two of our favorites are and were:

  • Gone with the Wynns.” Jason and Nikki are an energetic young couple who spent several years chronicling their life in their RV. We loved their “How Not To” videos and gadget reviews. I don’t know about Kathy, but my favorites include the series they did about their composting toilet. They’ve now moved out of their RV and into full-time life at sea in a catamaran. Can you imagine?
  • Less Junk, More Journey” Nathan and Marissa sold their house, got rid of most of their “stuff,” and moved into an RV with their adorable toddler, Hensley. We’ve been inspired by them to think of downsizing as a lifestyle choice rather than a regrettable necessity. Plus, they just seem like really nice people.

(We will list of all of our favorite blogs, vlogs, and websites in a different post.)

In the meantime, each time we took a vacation in a rented RV (see our RV rental tips and experience here) we became more and more excited about the RV lifestyle. It’s such a fun way to travel, and wherever you go you’ve got your own house with you. No unpacking every night at a different hotel. Being able to cook and eat your own meals instead of always eating at restaurants. The ability to simply move if you get tired of your location or your neighbors are too loud or unpleasant. RVing offers all of the joys of camping, with all the comforts of home.

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We also started going to RV shows to get a better sense of the many different styles and amenities available in modern motorhomes (also called RVs, short for recreational vehicles). Some of them are enormous and luxurious, with price tags of more than half-a-million dollars! Others are so small that you can just about cook and go to the bathroom at the same time. There’s something for every taste and budget.

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On our RV vacations, wherever we went we met friendly people who were eager to share both the joys and the challenges of life on the road. And whenever we watched another YouTube video or read a blog posted by RVers, we found ourselves saying, “Wow. I want to go there! I want to try living like that, too.”

So here’s our plan. I retire July 1, 2017. Somewhere between now and then, we find and buy an RV. Meanwhile, we downsize dramatically, selling some stuff, giving some away, putting a few things in storage, and throwing out the rest. Sounds easy, but we know it will be a real challenge to let go of a lifetime’s worth of stuff. For the first few months we’ll live at our little lake house, and take some short trips in the RV to get the kinks worked out. Then, sometime in the fall of 2017, after the kids leave for college or full-time jobs, we load up the pets, head south, and see where the road leads us.

We’ve still got a lot to figure out, and we’d like to hear from you. If you’ve got questions or advice, please let us know in the comment box below.

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